Sydney, Australia, Feb 10 (EFE).- Australia’s spy agency is monitoring extremist activists in protests against Covid-19 restrictions, the incursion of foreign spies on dating apps and social media, and the radicalization of children.
Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) chief Mike Burgess said in his annual threat assessment speech on Wednesday night that the agency’s focus is on a “small group of angry and alienated Australians.”
“The vast majority of protesters are not violent extremists, and the vast majority of the protests are not violent,” Burgess said at the ASIO headquarters in Canberra, which has been the scene of Canadian anti-vaccine mandate trucker-inspired protests this week.
Simeon Boikov, named the “Aussie Cossack” and who heads a far-right Russian nationalist organization that supported Moscow’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, has been identified by the Australian press as among the radicals taking part in anti-vaccine mandate protests in Canberra.
The Canberra Times on Wednesday reported that the conservative Australian United Party leader Craig Kelly signed Boikov, as part a delegation of protesters, into parliament this week, which Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally described as “deeply concerning.”
Burgess also stressed the power of the internet to incubate extremism.
“Online radicalization is nothing new, but Covid-19 sent it into overdrive. Isolated individuals spent more time online, exposed to extremist messaging, misinformation and conspiracy theories,” he said.
This has found fertile ground in the discontent of those who believe that the Covid-19 restrictions violate their personal freedoms.
“Obvious examples are the violent incidents at Covid-related protests fueled by anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown and anti-government agendas,” Burgess said, referring to the violent protests last year in the city of Melbourne.
He also noted an attack on a vaccination clinic and assaults on health workers, and believes that these tensions and the associated possibility of violence will persist.
Burgess also revealed that ASIO is monitoring attempts at rapprochement on dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Hinge, virtual spaces where there has been a growing infiltration of foreign spies, whose nationalities he did not mention.
“My message for any potential victims on these sites is a familiar one – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.
Burgess added that in the last two years, thousands of Australians with access to sensitive information have been targeted by foreign spies using social media profiles.
“These spies are adept at using the internet for their recruitment efforts (…) It’s an easy way for foreign intelligence services to target employees of interest.”
While there has been no domestic terror attack in the past year, Burgess said the most likely scenario in Australia over the next 12 months continues to be a lone-wolf attack.
He noted that, “alarmingly (…) the number of minors being radicalized is getting higher and the age of the minors being radicalized is getting lower,” with children as young as 13 embracing extremism.
“As a nation, we need to reflect on why some teenagers are hanging Nazi flags and portraits of the Christchurch killer on their bedroom walls, and why others are sharing beheading videos. And just as importantly, we must reflect on what we can do about it.” EFE